Grass into Gold Improves Silage

The Millers, an award-winning family of farmers from the Vale of Evesham, have got the 2017 grass-growing season off to a flying start with two cuts of silage complete by the start of June.

The first cut of the Millers’ 200 acres of forage grass was made early – at the end of April. This was followed by a second cut during week commencing 29 May. The cuts build on silage improvements seen on the farm last winter – which arose as a direct result of the family’s involvement in Grass into Gold, a research initiative led by the team at Barenbrug.

Steve Miller from Greville Hall Farm and James Ingles from Barenbrug.

Steve Miller from Greville Hall Farm and James Ingles from Barenbrug.

Across the UK, Barenbrug’s regional forage grass experts are working with ten farm teams to explore the benefits that proactive grassland management can have on grass quality, and grazing and forage yields. The Millers, who farm 1000 acres of land near Hinton-on-the-Green in Worcestershire, signed up to Grass into Gold in 2015.

Having won the farming industry’s prestigious Gold Cup in 2012, the family was keen to take part in the scheme to see if they could get more from their grass. With Barenbrug’s help, the Millers have spent the last two years switching their grass fields from two-year Italian leys to three- to five-year hybrid leys – a move designed to help secure a more even yield over four cuts.

Mike Miller, who farms alongside his two sons, Steve and Paul, and manages a 410-strong Shaneal herd of pedigree Holstein cows, explained more: “Winning the Gold Cup in 2012 was the ultimate reward for our hard work and commitment but – as we all know – there is no room for complacency in dairy farming. With fluctuating prices, we need to be at the top of our game at all times. That means working with experts in different aspects of our enterprise to understand what we can do better. We have got 1000 acres on farm, 260 of which are dedicated to grass – predominantly silage production. Grass is our biggest crop so when the chance to work with the team at Barenbrug came about, we jumped at the chance.”

Initially, James Ingles, Head of Agriculture at Barenbrug UK, helped the Millers tackle a field where no deep tillage is allowed because of the presence of an old roman site. Moving away from an Italian two-year ryegrass, James recommended reseeding the field in question with a hybrid mix that would last three to five years and, crucially, maintain quality and yield throughout the growing season. With the existing sward delivering a good first and second cut, but lacking in volume and quality at the back end of the summer, the Millers were happy to try a different approach. Within months, the improvement was obvious with the field yielding much better results. Convinced of the calibre of the new grass, the Millers decided to introduce the same mixture to other fields as and when they were ready to come off wheat – bringing cutting dates across the farm into line and easing overall grassland management.

Commenting Steve Miller said: “The new grass has been working really well – delivering a more even yield across the four cuts, which is exactly what we wanted. With more silage available, we can now feed forage grass all year round, which has reduced our bought-in costs. The cows are milking better than ever too. Off the back of the immense growth seen this spring and our early first cut, we are hoping to get five cuts in this year. If the weather allows, the plan is to try to cut every 35 days for the rest of the season. Watch this space!”

Commenting James Ingles from Barenbrug, said: “The results seen by the Millers are proof that all farmers, regardless of enterprise size, focus or experience, can achieve big improvements in grass with the right approach. The Millers have a brilliant track record and great figures when it comes to milk yield, so you would think that there wasn’t much more that they could do – but that’s clearly not the case. By embracing new innovations and techniques in all aspects of their business – including grass – they are pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved and seeing some great results.”

Of the Millers’ 410-strong herd, 380 cows are milked three times a day. Last year’s annual average yield per cow was 12,900 litres – a figure that the Millers hope to top this year.

In terms of next steps, the Millers will continue to work closely with James and the Barenbrug team throughout 2017 – making sure that future cuts are well timed and that general maintenance and management of the new leys is optimized to ensure maximum utilisation.


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